Even after Sarah Edgerly wrote her essay, gathered her references and filled out the final admissions form, she felt unworthy.
"Because of how I was brought up and the lifestyle that I had, college wasn't even a thing," said Edgerly, a 17 year old high school senior from Sanford. Neither of her parents attended college.
And problems at home overshadowed reading, homework and exams.
Hope for college vanished.
"It didn't seem like a legit thing for me to do," she said. "I never really thought that I'd be encouraged enough to do it."
Then, she did.
She concluded her three summers in USM's Upward Bound program by hitting the "return" key on an online college application.
Minutes later, she smiled, her face lit up with hope.
"I think it has finally hit me," Edgerly said. "I am going to go. I am going to do better for myself."
The federal Upward Bound program aims to lift goals, serving high school students from either low-income families or families where neither parent holds a bachelor's degree.
The USM program begins with teens on the summer before their sophomore year of high school. For a week, they come and live in the dorms, eat in the dining hall and begin talking with the staff about college, academics and careers.
On the following summer, the program expands to five weeks. Students then get detailed classroom work. They learn about the SATs, college applications and financial aid. They learn about the level of effort colleges expect.
And they are exposed to new sights and experiences. One of the highlights is an expedition to Casco Bay's Cow Island, where they are taught to zip line and sea kayak. Another is an etiquette dinner. They dress up and learn about the manners expected in a fine restaurant.
On the final summer, they spend their time picking schools and applying to schools.
This fall, 35 Upward Bound grads will attend 14 colleges and universities including USM, the University of Maine, Johnson & Wales University, Ithaca College and the Parsons School of Design at the New School.
Of Edgerly's group, which will head to college in fall 2018, 35 of 38 students plan to attend college, including some, who like Edgerly, plan to begin at a community college. But all have a plan.
Andrew Cotton of Alfred figures to earn his criminology degree followed by entrance into the FBI and, eventually, status as a special agent.
He credits Upward Bound and his high school ROTC program as helping set a path. Like so many, he will be the first in his family to earn a four-year degree, he said.
"I really had no interest in college," Cotton said. "Then Upward Bound teachers started explaining the benefits: money, happiness and lifestyle.
"I have to get my bachelor's degree," he said.
The program taught him more, though.
He and another student in the class, Washima Fairoz of Biddeford, attended the National Student Leadership Congress. It was held in June on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington. While there, they met Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree.
"It was so life-changing for me," said Fairoz.
She never expected to meet members of Congress, nor did she plan to go to college when she arrived in the US four years ago.
Her family split on the need for education.
That changed as she entered the program. She now plans to attend college and study political science.
"Before Upward Bound, I had zero dreams and I lived in darkness," she said. "But now I have hopes and dreams.
"I want to change the lives of people like me, especially the women who are struggling around the world to get education," she said. "If the women are not educated, the society will not improve.
'The world needs to change," she said.